While Cambodians agree corruption must end, nearly 85 percent consider it a normal part of their daily lives, according to a recent survey.
The Center for Social Development, which polled 1,000 Cambodians between December 1997 and July 1998, said the figure is alarming.
“This issue is related to good governance, transparency, responsibility,” said Chea Vannath, president of the pro-democracy thinktank. “If we just write about corruption in the press, corruption will still exist 20 years from now. We have to put pressure on the leaders to fight corruption.”
Chea Vannath said the center’s survey was conducted in the provinces of Kandal and Takeo and in Phnom Penh. Pollsters surveyed a cross-section of the population, including farmers, students, police, soldiers, business people and artisans. The purpose of the survey was to gauge attitudes on corruption, its impact, and possible solutions, she said.
She said those surveyed complained about corruption from the lowest levels of the society to the highest, permeating everything from schools and hospitals, to logging, land ownership and tax collection.
In some cases, such as teacher fees paid by the parents of public school children, corruption has become such an integral part of the system that the payments are considered “donations” to help the underpaid teachers.
More details about the report are to be released at a press conference probably later this month, she said.
Government and opposition officials agreed Wednesday that it is ominous that Cambodians accept corruption as the way things are. Both the opposition and Second Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP have pledged to fight corruption, but critics note there’s been such talk before, with little action.
The government’s inability to control corruption in large part led to the International Monetary Fund canceling $60 million worth of loans in 1996 and 1997.
“This is most scary if it is considered normal,” Secretary of State for Information Khieu Kanharith said Wednesday when told of the survey findings. “It is the grenade that delays the country from economic and social development.”
Khieu Kanharith concurred with Chea Vannath that leaders must set good examples for those below them, and that government activities must be transparent. He said, for example, that government officials should be required to declare their property assets, and that a committee should be set up to investigate questionable transactions.
Ou Bunlong, a Sam Rainsy Party official, said setting up committees to address the problem is not as important as reforming the entire government.
“The corruption is out of control. Whatever we are doing, we’re not making progress,” Ou Bunlong said.
Chea Vannath said the Center for Social Development plans to use the information to educate Cambodians about the issue.
“The corruption issue is very big and it needs the press, the NGOs and the people to unite,” Chea Vannath said. “We need to carry out all kinds of education to fight corruption.”
Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, said values have decayed during decades of internal conflict.
“Corruption reflects the deterioration of our moral and ethical values over a long period of time, especially since the beginning of the war,” he said.
He noted that during the 1975-78 Khmer Rouge regime children were separated from their families and there was no rule of law or proper education system that could impart morals and ethics.
“This destruction is more serious than the physical destruction of Cambodia,” Lao Mong Hay said.
What steps should Cambodia take in order to end corruption?
“First, we need to restore our moral and ethical values,” Lao Mong Hay said. “In the short term, that means enforcing the rule of law by adopting criminal law, civil law, commercial law and administrative law. You need to regulate everybody. It means you have certain values.”
(Additional reporting by Jeff Hodson)
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